Victoria Park Market shopowners have hired a lawyer in a fiery dispute with the well-known shopping centre's developers and managers.
Tensions are running so high that centre manager Shelley Mitchell called police during a disagreement with a shopkeeper over rent.
Park spokesman Paul Blomfield said it was a matter between the parties and the centre had no comment to make.
Retailers said they had been lured into the market, investing significant amounts, on the promise of a vibrant retail space.
But construction delays and slow leasing meant many had traded through years of dust, debris and, in many cases, with hardly any customers at all.
Corey and Rohini Stevens own and manage the Oak Room, on Drake St. Rohini Stevens said one of the key reasons they wanted to open the business in the market was that they were told it would be fully up and running before the Rugby World Cup in 2011. But construction was not finished until the middle of this year.
Rohini Stevens said the couple paid a premium - rent, rates, property management fees and "opex", or body corporate charges - for their position. But she said they received very little in return and there were no customers in the market. "If there was foot traffic it would be so much easier."
Stevens said developer David Henderson had hurried her husband into signing a new lease agreement that ended their rent-free period prematurely.
She said they had tried to stop paying opex because they did not think they were getting anything in return but the Victoria Park management team then threatened to turn off their water.
The Victoria Park spokesman said the Oak Roam was a recidivist defaulter on rent and opex and the centre management was left no choice but to act to collect money. "The tenancy is owned by a third party and all the Victoria Park Market centre management was doing was fulfilling normal contract arrangements to collect due funds so these could be dispersed to service suppliers."
Stevens' lawyer, Edwin Telle, said only 40 per cent of the available shops were open. Telle now represents nine or 10 other businesses in the market who want to renegotiate their leases or get out of them completely.
Stevens wants to stop paying rent and opex until 80 per cent of the market is open. "When they first advertised that Victoria Park Market was open we had so many customers come in and say: 'Where is it? There isn't anything open'. We had to say sorry - but they've never come back."
The park's PR team put out a press release last week saying 60 of the 74 available sites were leased or under contract. But Telle said many tenants had signed up because of brochures promising that by 2012, 80 per cent of the market would be tenanted and operating. "As a result of the delays ... a large number of people are having difficulty paying body corp fees and rent."
He will meet Victoria Park management and developers this week to try to reach an agreement.
Several tenants had given up and moved out, Telle said.
The centre is trying to chase them for rent but he said they would argue that they had cancelled their contracts because of a fundamental breach and misrepresentation.
Blomfield said: "Victoria Park Market is not interested in litigating this through the media. The re-development is now complete and retail offerings are opening in the market every week."